Fire Marshal Vito D'Amico and Wildia Morgan
UHN Fire Marshal Vito D’Amico and Wildia Morgan, Resource Nurse at Toronto Rehab’s University Centre. Wildia is the fire warden on the eighth floor and helped lead her colleagues through Vito’s fire drill last month. (Photo: UHN)

As Fire Marshal Vito D'Amico approaches the Nursing Station on the eighth floor of Toronto Rehab's University Centre on a Thursday morning, only about four staff are behind the counter.

He lets them know he's with UHN's Fire & Life Safety team and makes sure they have 15 to 20 minutes to spare.

“I'm going to give you guys a scenario," Vito tells the group. “So that photocopy machine in the back room starts smoking, what are you going to do?"

The group pauses to consider the hypothetical situation. Some suggest to unplug it, others to shut the door.

“You're doing great," Vito assures them, as he goes over UHN's REACT (Remove occupants, Enclose area, Activate alarm, Call 5555, Try to fight fire if safe to do so) procedure.

He lets the team know unplugging the photocopier is an option only if it's safe, otherwise, getting everyone out of the room and shutting the door is the priority (remove occupants, enclose area).

Vito and his fellow UHN Fire Marshals conduct these “table talk" fire drills – discussing what to do in a hypothetical situation, rather than acting it out – monthly to ensure every department gets a refresher each year.

With Fire Prevention Week Oct. 3 to 9, they're ramping up drills to raise awareness.

“It's fun to see everyone work together," Vito says about the crowd that inevitably grows at every drill.

Sure enough, his Toronto Rehab crowd grew to more than 15 staff eager to learn and participate. By the end of the session, they were grateful for Vito's visit and excited about what they learned.​

Dr. Kevin Smith with John Chartrand and Sparky
Dr. Kevin Smith, UHN President & CEO, holds the Fire Prevention Week proclamation alongside John Chartrand, Manager, Fire & Life Safety, and Sparky, the National Fire Protection Association mascot. (Photo: UHN)

The drills focus on UHN's REACT procedure, including where to find a pull station to activate the fire alarm (by any stairwell, which is also the case for any establishment such as a bar, or restaurant), what to tell the 5555 operator (as much detail as possible, including what is on fire, if there are injuries, etc.) and how to use a fire extinguisher (sweep it at the base of the fire).

According to John Chartrand, Fire & Life Safety Manager, staff education is just one part of the job.

Not only do Fire Marshals respond to all Code Reds (fire) and Code Browns (hazardous spill), they're also responsible for fire safety when it comes to engineering across all UHN sites. They work closely with the Facilities Management – Planning, Redevelopment & Operations (FM-PRO) Department on all renovations and construction, to ensure everything is designed, code compliant, tested and verified.

“We're involved right from the onset for all that stuff with fire safety," says John, adding that his team is currently collaborating with FM-PRO on about 80 projects.

Fire & Life Safety also oversees all enforcement, which is why they carry out drills and regular inspections.

“We stay ahead of the game with the authority," says John, adding that Toronto Fire Services (the authority) conducts annual inspections at UHN. “We meet all the standards and exceed most of them."

In 2020, UHN had 98 Code Reds – and zero resulted in hospital evacuation. In fact, in John's 14-plus years with Fire & Life Safety, he's never seen the hospital evacuated due to fire.

“We have a very good track record – very few incidents," he says.

What you need to know about fire safety & procedures
  • ​If the fire is nearby, follow REACT: Remove occupants, enclose the area, activate alarm, call 5555 (or 911 if at home), try to fight the fire if safe to do so. For staff, it's on the back of their UHN badge.
  • In the event of a Code Red while at a UHN site, pay attention to where the fire is when the announcement is made. If it is not on your floor, above or below you, you don't need to do anything. Just standby for more information.
    “Do you smell or see fire? If not, then you're probably in a good situation," says Vito.
    However, if your smoke alarm goes off at home (three loud beeps means there is a potential issue), you should always evacuate and call 911.
    “At UHN, you have a response team – at home you don't," says John. “The bottom line is follow what your smoke alarm is telling you."
  • Even in a false alarm – like burnt popcorn setting off the alarm – follow REACT. Once an alarm goes off, it cannot be reset, so Toronto Fire Services will respond.
    “You still need to go through REACT, this way when Toronto Fire comes, they can at least say we're following our procedure," says Vito.  
  • Do not bring appliances from home to work – only commercial-grade appliances should be used across UHN. Last month, a fire at Toronto General Hospital was caused by a residential kettle. To avoid this, clear new appliances with Facilities Management and Fire & Life Safety.
Vito D'Amico, a member of UHN's Fire & Life Safety team, is the Fire Marshal for Toronto Rehab and the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre. Every UHN site has its own Fire Marshal. Check the Fire & Life Safety Intranet page to find the one at your site. (Photo: UHN)

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